By: Dennis Cook
Stockholm Syndrome is currently on tour. They perform next on Friday, August 12, at the Paradise Rock Club in Philadelphia, Pa and Saturday, August 13, at Brooklyn Bowl in NYC. Find full tour info here.
“That which is coming is coming/ It can’t be denied/ There shall be no idle talk/ There shall be no sinful speech/ There shall be nothing but blessings and peace upon peace.”
|Stockholm Syndrome by Lindsay McWilliams|
Some of the best things in life arrive in fits & spurts, too potent or powerful to be experienced on a daily basis, a wave of life force too intense to bear as a matter of course but something we need if we’re to rise, evolve and perhaps break out of our constrictions. While they’ve only made two albums in their seven year existence, Stockholm Syndrome specializes in this sort of rock ontology, mighty hands reaching out into big ideas and executing their questing with genuine eloquence and delicacy that lacks no muscle or grit one might want.
Crying, “Wake up, wake up, wake up!’ their sophomore long-player Apollo (released February 21 on Response Records) glides through hosts of angels, crashing into hard-knuckled reality and coming out the other side bruised but brightened by surviving all the shit life throws at them. It’s a classic grower, a record that’s enjoyable out of the gate but perhaps missed for all its depths and thoughtful construction if one moves on too quickly. It’s a big growth step from 2004’s debut, Holy Happy Hour, defining the edges that mark this band from the members’ sundry other projects. Comprised of very busy boys – Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools (bass, vocals, production), modern singer-songwriter wunderkind Jerry Joseph (guitar, lead vocals), pure rock animal & Tom Waits-ian artist Eric McFadden (guitar, vocals), percussion maestro Wally Ingram and Gov’t Mule keyboardist Danny Louis - Stockholm rattles with purpose on Apollo, which hums with a subliminal undercurrent worthy of the album’s mythological namesake, light and prophecy mingling with a streetwise savvy born of barrooms and too many bad times to recount. This is music full of massive heart and feeling, even something a touch healing, but all unvarnished by sentimentality or subterfuge, and that feeling vibrates in both the music and lyrics. While it took a long while to arrive, at every turn, it’s a serious reminder that Stockholm Syndrome is a band with gigantic potential.
“I absolutely agree,” says Dave Schools, “however, there are always a few problems with gigantic potential. One is the parts that make up that potential – their schedules, what side of the bed they woke up on, etc. We’re all alpha dogs - I’m the least alpha dog of all of them because I’m in Widespread Panic. Wally always writes his own ticket, Jerry always writes his own ticket, Eric writes his own ticket, and Danny Louis has been writing his own ticket longer than I can imagine. So, those are some of the inherent problems on paper, but when we’re at our best, all that paper is what it is – a bunch of paper – and the music coming off the stage speaks for itself.”
|Stockholm Syndrome by Dave Vann|
There’s no fat on Stockholm’s music, nothing to hide the muscle and blood of it. Even when they range around, few things feel aimless or self-indulgent. In short, there’s a predatory prowl to their music.
“Either being dead center of the jam band scene or just working the borders, we all feel that strong songwriting is always the key, which Jerry and Eric both have in spades. It’s what’s lacking in all kinds of music, always has been, unless we’re talking really serious country or folk stuff,” says Schools. “Words that resonate with music that really resonates is a killer one-two punch. Most fans of the jam thing know how music can resonate, and sometimes some really amazing music can have some NOT resonant words with it. That’s what’s always attracted me to Jerry from the time Little Women was carrying Widespread Panic around to open shows for them. This guy has a golden tongue. He can really write and sing, and he can play the guitar. So, that’s something we all felt was really strong with this band, and probably the greatest source of potential. Musicians who can play, there’s a lot of them. Granted, they’re not found in every showcase, there are still a lot of them, whereas great songwriters are a rare breed.”
The songs in Stockholm Syndrome are layered and invite one to poke around and linger for a spell before they open up completely.
“This was the biggest challenge Jerry and I faced putting the band together in its initial form, and I face as the producer of the records, namely, how do we decorate these songs with distinct melodies and amazing lyrics without going overboard?” offers Schools. “I liken it to a Christmas tree. I like a simple tree with meaningful ornaments hung on it not one where I can’t see the tree for all the gilt and flash and popcorn strings and lights. It’s a refining thing. The motto for Apollo was “What does this song call for?” Any one of these musicians could decorate the shit out of this tree, but is it the right thing to do? No. There’s a lot more power in simply reinforcing the melodies and words that are already there in the musical element. Everybody really rose to that occasion with this album. It’s a pleasure to play like that, and it’s a pleasure to work with people who understand that.”
The collective confidence in this band is kind of staggering, and one gets the sense that these players step out on the edge in the live setting feeling like the rest of the boys have their back as they dangle in the wind.
“Yes, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” chuckles Schools. “Even though it’s stripped down and muscular, there’s plenty of room for everyone to maneuver onstage with this band. And sometimes it goes a little too far and some people are like, ‘Hey, wait for me!’ But when you talk about it and realize what’s going on it helps the product move forward. No one throws anyone down the stairs leading to the dressing room [laughs]. We talk about it and figure out how it made someone feel because it is a band thing and it’s trying to become more of a band thing, which is hard for everyone being alpha dogs. There’s a lot of power in letting that go and replacing it with trust. Then some amazing things can happen.”
“I couldn’t be more pleased with how this album came out,” says Schools. “The idea was to do it quickly, make the songs shine, and not spend a lot of time producing and doing overdubs. The decoration that’s on the songs is basically what they called for, and watching everybody get that and use their years of experience to empirisize what they played. It just makes me feel really good and it serves the songs really well.”
|Dave Schools by Josh Miller|
“Probably Miles Davis’ greatest quote is, ‘It ain’t what you play, it’s what you don’t play.’ I think that’s what Stockholm is trying to get around to. My wife isn’t a muso – she likes music and she’s married to a musician – but when it was presented to her in such an obvious fashion she couldn’t help but be moved by it. I think that’s really important,” continues Schools. “As we’ve discussed, there’s a lot of super talented shredders out there that just don’t know when to stop. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Just because you have a chainsaw doesn’t mean you should cut down every tree in your yard.”
Stockholm is a much different thing than Widespread Panic, which often feels like a huge, trundling machine that one is never quite sure what it will roll over next. This difference isn’t lost on Schools.
“I think that’s a perfectly adequate description of Widespread Panic…adequate is an understatement – it is what it is. That description could describe the Allman Brothers, too, who are a big locomotive with a big load of cars behind it. The first song or two you see the wheels slipping on the train track, but once that thing gets started don’t get in the way. I feel it’s the same way with Panic, which is about letting go, listening and intent, all rolled into one,” observes Schools. “Sometimes it’s a tough job, especially for the bass player. I like to think I’m one of the fulcrums in the band that allows two opposing things to meet halfway and work together. With Stockholm, the bass playing is much more traditional, though I have plenty of freedom. One of the reasons Jerry and I started the band was to do some things that had never been expected of us before or been allowed to do before. Here’s a freedom for us that stemmed out of us doing shows together as a duo and writing songs together in hotel rooms in Europe and the West Coast.”
“There were a lot of things stepping in the way of what we were trying to do, then Wally, who had been doing a duo thing with David Lindley for a long time and a lot of session work, drifted into the picture,” continues Schools. “Despite the name of the band and everything it stands for, it really meant musical freedom for us, a chance to write about things like broken hearts for Jerry and a chance to write about politics for me, and a chance to play big, broad stroke arena rock drums for Wally. There’s a reason people love John Bonham and big, heavy bottom rock drummers, and the great thing about Wally is he can do all that bombast – and I can play all that blockhead bass playing – but when it gets quiet Wally can do some of the most amazingly delicate, nimble drumming you’ve ever heard. He’s a very special player and we’re lucky to have him. And all the work he’s been doing with Jerry in their duo has just put them closer, which just helps this band out. The kernel of this chaos is Jerry’s style – the way he spits the words out in a particular rhythm, the way he strokes the guitar – and the closer Wally gets to that the better Stockholm becomes. We enjoy our looseness but we want Stockholm to be a tight band. We want the songs to be in the foreground.”
|Wally Ingram by Cody Molica|
With Panic moving towards a post-anniversary break, it seems like the opportunity to make Stockholm Syndrome a larger part of Schools life looms in the future.
“It’s enjoyable, and anything that’s enjoyable should take up more of your time. They say that life is suffering but you might as well have some fun with your suffering,” says Schools. “It’s hard to get everything together with our scheduling conflicts, but it’s moving toward everything being more streamlined with Panic doing this big year and taking some time off next year. The holes between tours are a little bigger, which gives me more time at home and the chance to do larger Stockholm tours. I fully admit I’ve been one of the reasons it hasn’t happened, and the other things we’ll chalk up to life and what happens. Between the end of 2004 and when Wally recovered from his cancer made it tough. So, I blame cancer…for a lot of shit in the world.”
“Gregg Allman said something in the Deep End movie Mike Gordon did. It’s about Woody but he’s really talking about the life of a traveling musician and how it becomes a double life – your life at home with your family and your life on the road with your friends. Where you get into trouble is the gray area between the two and the transition back & forth. That’s the hard part,” continues Schools. “Life does get in the way though. I’m sure we would have done a lot more gigs in ’05 and ’06 if Wally hadn’t been fighting for his life. But it was some of those benefits we did where Wally was only able to come out and play a couple songs before he got too tired where we realized this was a band and it was more than just a year we spent touring Holy Happy Hour in ’04. It was where we learned to be a team and a band, and we missed it and wanted to do it again.”
|Jerry Joseph & Eric McFadden by Susan J. Weiand|
“It took us a little while but Jerry and I sat at my house and wrote most of the songs [for Apollo] in three days. It’s almost like alchemy watching the lyrics and melodies emerge from him as we work on a piece of music. And then having someone like that trust me enough to look at ten verses and ask, ‘What’s wrong? What works? What can we do to make this better?’ is just amazing. I feel very privileged to be a part of it, and the same thing goes for Eric,” continues Schools. “Eric and Jerry have gotten really close. They wrote the song ‘Red Lightning’ on a particularly boring day off in Charlotte, North Carolina. You discover a lot about what you have in common if you just sit down and collaborate on a piece of music.”
Finally, as Schools observes, the kernel that Stockholm Syndrome germinates from is Jerry Joseph’s essence, a beautiful, painful POV that just might make us better people if we pay attention.
“Jerry is fascinated with the world, and he sees the idiocy AND the kindness of the world. He sees the random acts of beauty in the world. He sees it all, and he’s interested in what other people are doing and how they feel about things. He compares and contrasts that with what his heart is telling him to feel, and that’s a rare talent,” says Schools. “Very few people are willing to do that, and even fewer are allowed to do that and make a living at it. They can’t sell it but it’s what people need more than anything else.”
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